Sub-menu Navigation
Back to Top
Sub menu

    Coronavirus - advice and information for recreational boaters

    Guidance for boaters (updated 01/06/20)

    Government Guidance

    The latest measures to stop the virus spreading include: staying at home as much as possible, limiting contact with other people, keeping at least two metres from others and washing your hands regularly. 

    Following the Government announcement on Sunday 10 May, unlimited outdoor activity is permitted in England including all forms of boating.

    People are permitted to travel to other destinations in order to exercise. From Monday 1 June the Government is allowing up to six people to meet outside provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying two metres apart.

    In the Home Countries, the return to boating is at different stages dependant on how the devolved administrations assess the threat. We will continue to monitor the situation and to press for a responsible and safe return for boaters in all parts of the UK.

    Please continue to take action to prevent the potential spread of infection. The latest guidance from the UK Government can be found here

    The Government is advising everyone to stay alert

    • Stay at home as much as possible
    • Work from home if you can
    • Limit contact with other people
    • Keep your distance if you go out (stay 2 metres (6ft) apart where possible)
    • Wash your hands regularly 

    RYA guiding principles supporting its return to boating strategy

    From Wednesday 13 May in England, all forms of water sports including sailing, windsurfing and motor boating are now permitted. We are working with our Home Country colleagues to monitor the situation and to lobby for a responsible and safe return for boaters in all parts of the UK. An extension to the daily exercise guidelines in Scotland specifically includes sailing and motor boating and marks the start of a return to the water from 29 May.

    The RYA has published a considerable amount of detailed information to support its “Return to Boating” strategy across the boating community. This is underpinned by the following guiding principles which we published on 6 May:

    1. We will always follow Government guidance

    The COVID-19 preventative measures are vital to protecting health and well-being and to minimising pressure on the emergency services. We all have a role to play by following the Government guidance. Where the application is unclear, we will seek clarification so that boaters and activity organisers are kept informed.

    2. We will, as a boating community, take a considerate and conservative approach

    Considerate: be mindful of the potential impact that you could have on other water users and do not place unnecessary extra strain on the RNLI and emergency services.

    Conservative: help to minimise incident and accidents by taking an extra cautious approach to your boating.

    Our guidance on safe boating remains unchanged: know your limits; look after yourself; keep in touch and, above all, have a plan. As we head back to the water, we advise boaters to think about these factors.  The RNLI and the RYA have also worked in collaboration to produce joint safety guidance to help ensure that this summer is as safe as it can be.

    Coronavirus Regulations

    The current law imposing movement restrictions in England in response to the Coronavirus pandemic is set out in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI2020/350) as amended by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI2020/447) and The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (SI2020/500).

    The regulations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are subtly different but the restrictions and requirements are essentially the same across the UK; we shall therefore refer to the English regulations in the following paragraphs.  You should be aware that the pace at which the regulations are being eased varies considerably from Home Country to Home Country.

    The regulations enable the Government and devolved administrations to do three main things; determine what businesses must close and what can stay open, ensure people stay at home unless they have a “reasonable excuse” not to do so, and to prohibit groups of more than two people gathering in a public place unless they are from the same household. While the Government’s guidance (see Recreational boating in England below) sets out how the Government considers people should behave, the regulations set out how people must behave and it is the regulations (rather than the Government’s guidance) that may be enforced within the law.

    Regulation 6(1) of the English regulations deals with restrictions on movements and states that: “During the emergency period, no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse”. Regulation 6(2) of the regulations sets out an illustrative (but not exhaustive) list of what might constitute a reasonable excuse for a person leaving the place where they are living. However, the regulations make it clear that the list of "reasonable excuses" is not exhaustive so the fact that a particular activity is not listed does not mean that that activity does not amount to a reasonable excuse. Only the courts can determine what does or does not amount to a reasonable excuse.

    That said, a "reasonable excuse" includes taking exercise and in England this now specifically includes a visit to a public open space for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote people's physical or mental health or emotional wellbeing, but it has to be done:

    • alone, or
    • with one or more members of their household, or
    • with one member of another household

    The regulations do not themselves specify what type of exercise is or is not acceptable.  However, guidance for England makes it clear that all forms of water sports practiced on open waterways, including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, kayaking, surfing, paddle-boarding and the use of privately-owned motorised craft (in line with the guidance issued by the relevant navigation authority) are allowed.

    Neither is there anything that prohibits driving where a person has a reasonable excuse for leaving the place where they are living.  The regulations make no reference to "essential travel" or "non-essential travel" so these expressions have no relevance to the application of the law.  It has always been the case that driving to a place of exercise is lawful.  Only the Welsh regulations state that exercise must be done within an area local to home; that exercise should not involve going a significant distance from home and that exercise should start and finish from home.

    Some public statements have suggested that members of the public can only leave their homes if “essential” to do so. However, this is not the test set out in the regulations and there is no legal basis for a requirement in those terms to be imposed. The applicable threshold is that of “reasonable excuse”.

    Recreational boating in England

    In England the Government has published guidance for the public on the phased return of outdoor sport and recreation in England. You can leave your home to exercise and spend time outdoors for recreation.  

    People can go outside more than once a day for exercise, alone, with members of their household, or with 1 person from outside of their household as long as they are following social distancing guidelines. You must still only exercise in groups of no more than 2 people, unless you are exercising exclusively with members of your household.  From Monday 1 June the Government is allowing up to six people to meet outside provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying two metres apart.

    You can now travel for physical activity. Ideally use your nearest, local appropriate venue to reduce pressure on transport infrastructure. But you can travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance.     

    All forms of water sports practiced on open waterways, including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, kayaking, surfing, paddle-boarding and the use of privately-owned motorised craft (in line with the guidance issued by the relevant navigation authority) are allowed.  

    Sport facilities are now allowed to open and you are allowed to visit venues like a sailing club to exercise.  

    Indoor facilities such as clubhouses should be kept closed, apart from toilets and throughways. Outdoor gyms, playgrounds and outdoor swimming pools remain closed.  

    Bars and restaurants, including any food or drink facilities inside a clubhouse must remain closed until further notice. Take-away services can be offered, but any hot or cold food must be consumed off the premises, outside of the building.  

    You should check first if facilities, such as car parks, are open to receive visitors and, when in the countryside, continue to follow the Countryside Code by respecting the local community and protecting the natural environment.  

    Leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home is not allowed.  

    To stay safe, you must take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors, and keep at least two metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times.  

    The government has published highlevel guidance for elite athletes and professional sportsmen and women, in order to allow them resume performance training under new guidance at official training venues. 

    Recreational boating in Scotland

    On 28 May 2020, the First Minister announced an extension to the daily exercise guidelines in Scotland as it moves to phase 1 of its approach to easing restrictions. RYA Scotland has confirmed that the extension to exercise specifically includes sailing and motor boating and marks the beginning of a return to the water from 29 May onwards.

    An announcement by the CEO, RYA Scotland can be found here.

    General guidance for boating in Scotland during Phase 1

    The guidance recognises the importance of the new exercise guidelines in Scotland and that Phase 1 is an important first step in a process that will take time.

    Phase 1 is an extension to exercise Some sporting activities can now be undertaken outdoors, providing all activity is consistent with current Scottish Government guidance on health, physical distancing and hygiene. 

    Physical distancing requirements are still in place People must stay a minimum distance of 2 meters apart when meeting others from outside their household. 

    Travel is still restricted  You are permitted to travel short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise but strongly advised to stay within a short distance of your local community (broadly within 5 miles) and travel by walk, wheel or cycle where possible. 

    Meeting others is limited You may meet up with another household outdoors in small numbers, less than 8, but with physical distancing required and only meet with one other household per day. 

    You may not meet up with others indoors. 

    No public gatherings are permitted Except for meetings of two households which must be outdoors, less than 8 in number and with physical distancing.

    The restriction on travel should be noted. Those who live in England but keep their boats in Scotland will only be able to travel 5 miles over the border.

    RYA Scotland general guidance for boating activity for phase 1 can be found here

    RYA Scotland guidance for clubs can be found here.

    The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force on 26 March to allow enforcement of those measures in recognition of the threat posed to public health from the coronavirus. The physical distancing measures in place in Scotland – a mixture of regulations and guidance can be found in the Framework for Decision Making: Further Information. As of Monday 11 May the once-a-day limit on exercise was removed from the guidance.

    Recreational Boating in Northern Ireland

    The rules on travel in Northern Ireland have been relaxed, this means that in all instances where people are now permitted to leave home, including to take exercise, there is no limit on the distance they can travel. Outdoor activities and sports that do not involve shared contact with hard surfaces, such as golf, water sports and tennis, can restart again. In addition, groups of six people or less who do not share the same household can meet and take part in outdoor activity while maintaining social distancing.

    On 22 May 2020, Sport NI produced a Framework to guide decision making on how a gradual resumption of sport and physical recreation might take place in Northern Ireland. This sets out five key steps for the resumption of water sports (e.g. canoeing, rowing, sailing, surfing, swimming) from lockdown to full use of sporting activities and is aligned with the Northern Ireland Executive’s five-phase blueprint for recovery and the relaxation of restrictions when specific criteria are met.

    However, the NI Executive’s approach does not include projected dates for easing restrictions. We will publish an update as and when dates and further relaxation measures are known.

    Recreational Boating in Wales

    The Welsh Government has announced that from 1st June, two households in the same local area will be able to meet outdoors if they follow social distancing and "strict hand hygiene practices". The Welsh Government say local means "not generally travelling more than five miles from home". 

    The Welsh coronavirus regulations legally require that you should not leave home (the place where you live) without a “reasonable excuse” for doing so. This is followed by a list of examples of the kinds of things that would be a reasonable excuse. This list is not intended to include all possible reasonable excuses for leaving home.

    The Welsh Government regulations recognise that exercise is a reasonable excuse to leave home. Exercise outside the home is allowed and the number of times anybody goes out to exercise is not limited by the regulations. Importantly, the form of exercise is not specified in the regulations; in practice and until now this has constrained by other restrictions that have been imposed – exercising locally, social distancing and restrictions on travelling any distance.

    Following the announcement, it may now be quite possible to get to a boat on a mooring or take a canoe or wind surfer to a beach without being constrained by the other regulations provided you do not need to travel more than five miles to do so.

    Further details from RYA Cymru Wales can be found here.  

    Private boat insurance during the Coronavirus lockdown

    Many insurance policies include conditions relating to “keeping the boat in a seaworthy condition” and will have exclusions relating to “lack of maintenance” and “gradual ingress of water”. 

    In the current lockdown, many of us have not been able to visit our boats for some time.  Now that restrictions are easing, in England at least, many marinas, moorings and boatyards are now beginning to re-open. However, current Government guidance is that leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home is not allowed.  While there are no restrictions on how far you can travel to get to your boat, this means that staying overnight on a boat is also not permitted making a round trip is impractical for some.  For those in this position, regular attendance and maintenance will be extremely difficult if not impossible until there is a further easing of restrictions.

    The RYA’s advice to all our members is that you should check your insurance policy with your insurers no matter what the policy itself actually states. This is because in the majority of cases it will pre-date the Covid-19 pandemic measures that have now been put in place.  Our understanding is that most insurers are willing to extend the period when boats are left unattended and we would be surprised if any insurer refused to extend this provision, although there is likely to be a condition that the vessel must have been adequately maintained prior to lockdown. 

    UK canals and rivers

    Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 10 May, from Wednesday 13 May owners may visit their boats on Canal & River Trust waterways (different rules apply in Wales).  Visitors should expect to go back home on the same day.  Although boats cannot currently be used for general navigation, they can be used for ‘minimum travel’ such as repair or essential maintenance.  The Canal & River Trust is looking at when navigation can be reinstated and mooring exemptions have been extended to 23 May.  Please see the Canal & River Trust website for updates and frequently asked questions.  

    Environment Agency (EA) waterways Coronavirus (Covid-19) update issued on 21 May 2020:  You can now do all non-powered water sports on EA waterways and some waterways will be ready for leisure cruising as early as this week, with the rest by 1 June, unless hazards in the waterways prevent us from doing so.

    EA have said that it is working hard to make sure powered boats can start leisure cruising on its waterways from 1 June at the latest. In order to be ready for this, the EA has reassured boaters they can now visit their moored boats (subject to approval of your marina operator or boat club) to check them, carry out maintenance and ensure they are ready for use.

    From the 1 June, the normal time restrictions for short stay moorings will be in place again. This means people currently moored on our short stay moorings will need to resume continuous cruising or return to their permanent mooring. If you are experiencing difficulty moving because you are isolating or shielding, please get in touch with your local waterways team.

    More information including specific waterways information is available here

    The joint owners of the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) have extended the temporary extension to safety certificates for those craft requiring an examination to 31 July 2020. Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Examinations are now resuming for most boat owners but they will happen within a ‘new normal’ framework.  Guidance to help boat owners prepare for the Examination under this framework is available at

    Recreational boating abroad

    On 30 March the Government updated it global travel notice which advised UK nationals travelling abroad to return to the UK while there are still commercial flights available. The global travel notice now advises against all non-essential travel abroad due to unprecedented international border closures and travel restrictions being imposed without advance warning.

    This update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily. If applicable, British travellers should contact their tour operator or airline now.

    The RYA advises recreational boaters to follow the advice from the UK Government. We are aware that this may be difficult, particularly when considering where to locate boats for the forthcoming hurricane season and because coastal states are increasingly closing their borders including to recreational craft, or as a minimum imposing a period of self-isolation or quarantine.

    The right of a foreign ship to stop and anchor in coastal waters should it find itself in distress is explicitly referred to in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Where safety of life is involved, the provisions of the SAR Convention should be followed. The right to stop and anchor does not, however, amount to a right to enter the internal waters or ports of a coastal state. It is a matter for each coastal state to determine whether and, if so, on what terms a vessel may enter a port within its jurisdiction. In the current climate, it can be expected that many coastal states will take measures to tackle Coronavirus which include closing their sea borders.

    Within the wider cruising community there are reports of boats being turned away from their chosen destination on arrival, therefore the advice is if you are safely moored and are allowed to stay, then it is advisable to do so.

    In particular, setting off on passage or to remote places during the Coronavirus pandemic is inadvisable. Communities that would in normal circumstances welcome cruising yachtsmen may now see you as a threat, particularly more remote destinations which will not have the capacity to treat serious cases. Any exposure brought to their populations could be devastating and if you have an accident or are taken ill, healthcare may simply be non-existent. Be aware, particularly if you are undertaking a longer passage then the situation in your destination (no matter how well researched before departure) may have changed by the time you arrive.

    Noonsite provides a considerable amount of information that may help recreational boaters abroad and its Covid-19 document has guidance as well as links to all the latest developments. Noonsite will also publish updates on the world situation as it changes and countries extend their lockdowns, so keep an eye on the Noonsite homepage. There are also a number of field reports on the site at which may be of interest. These give an overview of what recreational boaters are experiencing in around the world and the situation you are likely to find on arrival in other countries.

    Noonsite, working with the Ocean Cruising Club, has put together details of ports for cruisers making their way back to Europe across the Atlantic.  The list, published on Noonsite, is also available to download as a pdf so that it can be referred to offline, when underway.  Due to the evolving nature of the situation, this information is not static.  Updates and fresh information received are added and the pdf amended at regular intervals.  The 'Update History' section at the bottom of the page indicates what has been added or updated on the page and when.  Please share any new information or updates you may have with 

    If you are in difficulty abroad, contact the relevant British Embassy or Consulate for advice and assistance.

    Arriving in the UK by recreational boat

    Unlike many other countries, there is so far no blanket ban on arriving in the UK by recreational boat but if you try to do so you may none the less find your arrival problematic. Port facilities and marinas are closing and other authorities are taking whatever steps they have within their powers to stop or restrict recreational boating.

    Some UK ports have introduced requirements for vessels (including recreational boats) arriving from outside the UK to complete and submit a health declaration on arrival. The requirements have been notified via local notices to mariners. Check local notices to mariners regularly for updated instructions and closures.

    Once in the UK recreational boaters will be expected to adhere to the current UK Government ‘stay at home’ instructions.

    What if a contract I have entered is unlikely to be performed?

    Members of the RYA community are likely to have entered a range of contracts before the COVID-19 pandemic. From charter agreements, RYA courses to contracts for services the effect of the current situation is being felt across the boating community. The position is developing daily, with unprecedented government involvement. The RYA Legal Team has drafted guidance intended to provide a helpful starting point, but you may also need to seek independent legal advice.

    To get in touch

    Should RYA members require any advice related to the guidance on this page please do not hesitate to get in touch. Your point of contact for this is the RYA Cruising Team on +44 (0) 23 8060 4233 (please have your membership number to hand when you call) or email (please include your membership number in your email).

    For other enquiries, call the RYA on +44 (0) 23 8060 4100.  Please listen to all the options and select the right one for you.  Calls are redirected to our mobile phones and we cannot redirect calls, this means you will have to redial.

    Page updated: 1 June 2020

    Find books for your course at the RYA Shop

    eBooks in the cloud
    Our handy guide shows the books & DVDs that go with your course!
    Please select...